Erin Fitzpatrick’s portraits are lush and full of color. I LOVE everything about them – the colors, the patterns, the energy. When looking in her subject’s soulful eyes it’s almost as if they are speaking directly to you.
Erin is a Baltimore native and graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She started painting portraits in 2008 and has a significant body of work. I am delighted I was able to ask Erin a few questions about her inspiration and process to share with you here. Enjoy!
When did you first get interested in painting? I have been interested in making images since I was young, 5 years old or so. I developed my skills in high school and art school, but I didn’t really start painting until about 12 years ago. Before that, I was mostly drawing. Now I paint almost every day.
How did you settle on portraiture and painting icons? How do you decide on subject matter?I’ve always been interested in making portraits because there is an unlimited supply of subject matter. People are so interesting and I love meeting new people whenever possible. I can paint a portrait that aims to show the soul of the subject, or I can use a model to create a character. The icons are more for fun. I only sell those paintings once in a while because they are painted from found images. One day I hope to be at the level where I’m meeting these people and photographing them myself. I have been thinking about creating limited edition boxes that include an icon painting and other handmade items, but that concept is still in the works.
As far as choosing my subjects, these days the majority of my paintings are by commission, so the subjects are clients. When I choose someone for a personal work, I usually have some kind of mood board for the painting and I seek out friends or people on social media to model. As far as the icons I’ve chosen to paint, sometimes I select them based on a striking image and sometimes because I’m a fan. When I painted Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, it was because I was possibly going to have the chance to meet Martha and I wanted to give her something cool (I did meet her and give her the painting!)
You use lush colors and often have gorgeous patterns in your paintings. Have you always been attracted to colors and patterns?It’s funny. I took more classes in the fibers department than I did painting in art school. I took 4 semesters of weaving, not to mention several other classes in the department versus only two painting classes. I learned to dye and create textiles and studied textile design from many different cultures. At some point I asked myself, if you love this type of imagery, why aren’t you painting it? After that, pattern and color became an integral part of my work.
As someone who loves colors and patterns myself (August Table is all about patterns!), how do you decide which pattern to use in a painting and where do you get your inspiration?When I work with a client, I ask them about color scheme (what will look awesome in their homes) and then I make a digital collage with ideas for their patterns. We work together to select what will look best in their custom portrait. When I make my own work, I build a small set for my model to pose in. The “wallpapers” are either textiles that I’ve hung or paper that I’ve hand painted. In my last large work, I spent 20 hours hand painting a wallpaper for the photo shoot. It’s kind of tropical and was inspired by a trip to Cuba.
What is something fun about you that no one knows?I’ve always been a traveler. As soon as I was old enough to go somewhere on my own (17 yrs) I started exploring the country. I did two summers of Dead tour and had many adventures (and misadventures…like unknowingly spending the night with a cult in Nashville). I also got stranded in Mississippi once (22yrs) and lived in The Ole Miss Motel for a month. I still have this sense of adventure.
Hi! I’m Erin. I decided to get rid of the stuffy third person bio and just tell you a little about myself. I’ve been painting (mostly) portraits since 2008 and now have collectors around the world. I create artworks of my own design as well as custom paintings by commission. This is my full-time job and I am currently booked for over a year (my clients are awesome).
I’ve painted a mural for Senator Kamala Harris and Martha Stewart owns one of my paintings! Oh yeah, so does Ringo Starr…like of The Beatles! How wild is that?
I love textiles, plants, patterns and interior design, and these themes often make it into my oil paintings. For my personal work, I actually build a set for the photo shoot to create a reference image, often handcrafting the items like rugs and wallpaper.
Summertime and travel are my favorite things, so you’ll catch me enjoying one of the two if I’m not painting my fingers off in my studio. The best place to check out my latest work is on my Instagram @fitzbomb
Lisa Krannichfeld first caught my eye on instagram. I’m not sure how I stumbled across her work but I was captivated from the moment I saw one of her paintings. The boldness of color, the prints, patterns, and the electricity I felt coming off the subjects. I simply fell in love with each piece. Lisa’s recent bodies of work: Undomesticated Interiors and Girls and Guiseare rebelling against the traditional portrayal of women of the 17th – 19th centuries as demure, decorative objects, belonging to their husbands or fathers and seeks to retell the female narrative.
Lisa’s website states “Girls and Guise references a play on words. In this context guise references both the facade created by men of the female gender, and the heavy emphasis of the patterned clothing in the pieces. Their clothes, or guises, areinfused with feral and aggressive animals, a symbolic rebellion against the historical domesticated depiction of women.The jarring, faceless compositions represent any and all women who desire to define their own perspective and create their own narratives. Intentional hand gestures hint at conviction.”
I had the opportunity to ask Lisa a few questions and share her answers below.
1. I understand you grew up in the south, in Little Rock, AK. At what age did you first discover you loved to create art and paint?
Honestly, there never was a time that I remember where I wasn’t obsessed with art and creating. I remember in elementary school art class being the most magical, fun place (until our state cut out art classes from the curriculum, sadly). It was always a part of my life, however, I didn’t really commit to it being part of my professional life until my senior year in college.
2. Your current body of work is focused on women with deep meaning and purpose behind your intent, refuting historical portraiture of women. Can you share a bit about this? How did this body of work evolve?
The work first started with portraits of women done in a headshot style. I found painting honest facial expressions more interesting than just pretty faces, so I would paint anxious faces, angry faces, confused faces, defiant faces. This led to painting women in general in a more honest way, void of just physical beauty and sexual appeal. I started expanding my compositions to the entire figure and the figure within interior spaces.
3. You describe your work as loose expressive portraiture and use lush colors with many patterns and prints in the mix. What drew you to including prints in your paintings and is there meaning behind them?
There are a few reasons why I include prints and patterns in my work. I love how the order of the patterns and prints juxtapositions itself with the chaotic style of the painted areas. I like to think of it as a metaphor for all the states a woman can be in. Women have to juggle so many roles and be mindful of so much at any one moment that it makes sense to compose them of so many different materials in my paintings. I also use a lot of patterns that have flora and fauna as a part of the prints so there’s a bit of hidden wildness to the overall experience of the painting which I think is also a metaphor for women.
4. What is something fun you can share about yourself that no one knows?
I love a good creaturey sci-fi thriller. I am obsessed with french pastries. I can’t whistle. I tie my shoes bunny-ears style, which apparently no one else does.
Lisa’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and publications nationally and internationally including shows across the United States, Asia, Australia, and Europe. Most recently her work was chosen as the grand award winner in the 2018 60th Annual Delta Exhibition. In 2017 she won the grand award at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center Juried Exhibition, and Best in Show at the 2017 Magic City Art Connection Art Fair in Birmingham, AL.
She has had work featured in numerous worldwide publications, was the face of Saatchi Art’s Spring 2019 “Refuse to be the Muse” campaign, and has had work featured in Anthropologie. Her work is included in several private and corporate collections throughout her home state of Arkansas as well as in collections around the world.
Many of you know that among all things tabletop, entertaining, gardening and baking, I am incredibly passionate about art and artists. This blog is about sharing passions to inspire others and bring more joy, more love and more laughter.
It’s been a while since I have shared anything about art or artists, so I decided to turn that around and have an exciting lineup of fabulous artist spotlights for you, which will unfold over the next few weeks.
The first artist spotlight is on Donna Dodson, who I met years ago in Boston. I reached out to Donna and asked her what she’s been working on during the pandemic and in quarantine. I am delighted to share Alpha Female, the first sculpture in her series about the Amazons. Donna shares her thoughts below.
This sculpture is the first one in my new series about the Amazons. I call her the Alpha Female. She has an eagle head, because the nomadic women of the ancient steppes used female golden eagles to hunt. Also, this sculpture is dedicated to my great aunt Alice, who was one of the first 40 women to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Corps during WW2 from Illinois. The eagle is also a patriotic symbol honoring her military service. When I was researching the Women’s Auxiliary Air Corps, I learned that eventually it became the US Air Force, but it started out as a branch of the army, and they used Athena’s helmet as their emblem on their uniforms. Since ancient amazons had tattoos, I decided to give this sculpture a tattoo of Athena’s helmet on her calf. Athena is always portrayed with breast shield, so that I made metallic breast shields on my sculpture celebrating the lineage of amazing women warriors from ancient times to the modern era. This sculpture has shoes similar to the ones I found in historic photographs of women in uniform during WW2. And the women are always dressed in skirts, never pants.
Donna Dodson is an American sculptor who has been honored with solo shows nationwide for her artwork. In addition her monumental works have been exhibited internationally in sculpture parks and museums. In 2015, Donna participated in a residency in Cusco Peru at the Escuela de Bellas Artes and international exchange exhibition at Museo Convento de Santo Domingo Qorikancha. In 2016 she had her first solo museum show of “Mermaids” at the New Bedford Art Museum. In 2017, Donna was invited to the International Wood Sculpture Symposium in Ringkoebing Denmark. In 2018, her life size chess set, Match of the Matriarchs premiered at the Boston Sculptors Gallery. From 2017-2019, Dodson’s solo show Zodiac was on a national museum tour.
Dodson is a graduate of Wellesley College. Dodson enjoys public speaking, and has been a guest speaker at conferences and panels in museums and universities throughout North America. Donna regularly contributes articles to newspapers, magazines and blogs that demonstrate the economic impact and global reach of the arts sector. She recently contributed an Introduction to the monograph “The Contemporary Art of Nature: Mammals.”
Kyoto, a place like no other, holds a special place in my heart with its many Buddhist temples, traditional wooden houses, imperial palaces, gardens and delightful food, but most of all for it’s beauty, history and peaceful quietness that allows space for reflection.
I first wrote about Kyoto on this blog three years ago after a visit where I stayed at a Buddhist temple for a weekend in order take a meditation class, and over the course of the few days found many unexpected surprises, met new friends, walked through a bamboo forest and hiked to the top of a mountain to see the monkeys.
This week I was fortunate to visit Kyoto again with some of my colleagues for a day of fun and exploration before we kicked off our work in Osaka with a corporate partner.
Yet today my heart is heavy that just a few days after our visit Kyoto saw an atrocious act of arson with a fire that caused so much harm and lost so many lives. I share photos from our visit on Monday with reverence and respect to Kyoto and my heart goes out to the families of those lost.
Monday, July 15th, a day of exploration…
We were staying in Osaka so we got up early and took the train to Kyoto and immediately made our way to the bike rental company. Once on our bikes, Kris and Kristin navigated us through the city to the bike path along the river so we could make our way north to the Philosopher’s Path.
As we rode through the streets, crooked and small, and along the path, I felt exuberant and so free. We were lucky in that it was not too hot; the day was cloudy, which kept us out of the sun, yet it did not rain. The wind was on my face and rushed through my hair. As we made our way the scents of the city filled my nostrils: wafts of fragrant flowers, bursts of incense seeping from the shrines and temples, and delicious smells of delicacies flowing out of the myriad of restaurants.
The Philosopher’s Path is a stone path lined with cherry trees that follows a little canal where one of Japan’s famous philosophers was said to have meditated during his daily walk to Kyoto University.
After walking our bikes along the path, we stopped at Omen for lunch to have some of their famous udon noodles and experience local fare.
After lunch we mounted our bikes again and made our way back to the banks of the Kamo River.
We stopped for a minute so that we could walk across the stone path…
The Kamo River stepping stones include large turtles crossing the river.
Our final destination was across the city again to The Golden Pavilion, dazzling architectural beauty surrounded by water and zen gardens.
The Golden Pavilion
Before heading back to the train station we made sure to enjoy the refreshing green tea ice cream.
Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love. She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends. Read more about her inspiration here.
Today I have spent the better part of the day reflecting, reflecting on my family, my friends, my unconditional love for my children, my deep love for my husband (my soul mate and best friend), reflecting on nature, relationships, on stillness… on quiet…. and on connections.
As I slowed my mind down, attempting to transcend the clutter of my racing thoughts, I realized how beautiful the friendships I have are, and how we all must disconnect in order to fully connect with others. Disconnect the cell phones, the emails, the screens and all the other daily inputs consuming our focus and thoughts.
Today I stood outside in the wilderness of Vermont, alone, and listened to the stillness. At first I only heard quiet…but as my mind adjusted to this slower rhythm I started to hear the cadence and patter of the snow falling off the trees from last night’s dusting, the rustle of leaves in the soft breeze, a far off call of a bird. I took many deep breaths and filled my lungs with the cold, crisp air and closed my eyes. I felt joy in being alive.
Life goes by in the blink of an eye. Our busy lives and full schedules make it slip by even faster. It’s too short to not slow down and find connections. Connect with nature. Connect with your children. Connect with your family. Connect as a family. There is a difference there.
Connect with yourself. Think about what makes you happy. What fills you with excitement and passion. What do you like? Spend less time worrying and more time being grateful for those who love you and all of life’s goodness. Look at what is right in front of you with fresh eyes as if you are seeing them for the first time.
So again…get off the devices. Slow down and look your children, friends, loved ones in the eye and listen. Ask them how their day was and really listen. Nothing is more important and precious in life than loving and being loved. Without connections life is hollow, lonely and empty. Don’t waste what you have. Choose to be happy, to be at peace. If you look for the good, you’ll find it.
Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love. Read more about her inspiration here.
“Cocktails are mostly little drinks made up from people’s screwy ideas of what tastes good or sounds better. They’re usually originated during the middle stages of a beautiful glow or to create an impression of sophistication. Among the hundreds of cocktails, ingredients comparatively few have weathered the years and are ordered repeatedly everywhere… Most cocktails, whatever the name, are just slight variations of a few good standard recipes…” Trader Vic 1948
(Trader Vic created the Mai Tai)
A Cocktail menu, can be daunting- but why? A cocktail menu should be a leaping off point that breaks the ice between you and the person behind the bar.
Yes, a cocktail menu functionally is a printed document handed to everyone and serves the purpose of being the fastest way to convey the most information to everyone who enters the establishment. However, it is not a stand-alone document. The Menu serves as a baseline for communication. The cocktail menu theoretically is much more. It is the conduit to getting the drink you “want”. How? It does two distinct things.
First, it gives the guest an insight into the skill set of the bar and an idea of what products the bar carries. It is a marker, not to what is, but what is possible. Secondly, but far more importantly it is a talking point- it allows the guest to open a dialogue with the bartender about “what you like”
It should be clear, from the cocktail menu, what style of drink the bar likes to make and what “classics” they are riffing. This is where the bartender comes in… It is the bar’s responsibility to tell you, to the extent you want to know, (nobody goes to a bar for a lecture) the philosophy behind the cocktail menu and the whys of the drink list.
In the end the bar should want to give you the drink you want, not the drink they want to sell you. This seems like a silly turn of phrase, but this statement strikes at the core of what it means to be bartender. Bartending is a restaurant’s front line in hospitality. Being a proper bartender demands the skill of reading people and understanding what the guest wants. It is assessing the experience they are looking to have and exceeding their expectations. The cocktail menu is the first tool, to engage with the guest.
Todd Maul cocktail photography
As stated by Trader Vic, most drinks are going to be a simple riff on a classic cocktail. But a guest should not be herded into buying a drink on the menu, they should be led to a place of collaboration. The end product should be the result of idea sharing, on flavor, notes, spirits and even mood. The bartender should be using the menu as a beacon, to help you find your drink.
Todd Maul co-founded Cafe ArtScience in Cambridge, MA and is an amazing mixologist who has revolutionized the way we see cocktails.
At one point, when there were too many things to keep track of, I started to carry a notebook with me at all times: A kind of external, analog and, as I first thought, static second brain.
Barton, Stefan. Observations of the three-eyed. Drawing.
In there (I am at least at book # 10 now) is an unruly mixture of dates, appointments, locations, lists, contacts, errants, links, random thoughts, acute ideas, etc.
Barton, Stefan. I should not have said anything. Drawing
This mess of words, numbers and other symbols experiences a treatment of crossing-outs, underlinings, grouping, linking (with arrows of a multitude of shapes) alterations, additions, subtractions, disintegration, annihilations (with wild force or with nice-looking spirals).
Barton, Stefan. Untitled. Drawing.
A current page is alive and morphing. It may become a rudimentary picture, with balance (or imbalance), impromptu composition, with it’s own energy and surprises out of nowhere, unintentional, emerging, self-organizing.
Barton, Stefan. Garbler. Drawing.
In these erratic arrangements I may find new forms and connections I can work into the chaos. Letters, words, scribbles and scrawls, lines and arrows become parts of figures, faces – literally embodiments. Eyes form spontaneously, placing themselves, looking back at me in concert with a variety of lively facial expressions, with pleas or disdain, with personality and maybe fate.
Barton, Stefan. Prototypes. Drawing.
In the book my personal notes become a chaos-generator. And the resulting disorder I can turn into an aesthetic problem, and, if inspired, a solution in the process. Some of the images (and note, the book is not a sketch-book) are silly, some seem profound, some I turn extern into full-grown paintings.
Barton, Stefan. Glint. Drawing.
The unplanned images cannot possibly be completely coincidental. They are based on meaningful thoughts, information, and the processing thereof manifesting through pen and pencil. It appears that they are more than the sum of their parts, even if they might in fact be less, depending on the value of the initial momentary notes, any resulting revelations, and finally on the quality of the emerging picture, on which I might have spent a good amount of time.
Barton, Stefan. Nicht Nichts (Not Nothing – as you can see these two word are almost identical in German, unfortunately not in English, but not a drama… ;-)).
The unwitting and somewhat automatic (when on the phone for example) playing with letters and numeration make me realize which lines and forms and circumstances I am drawn to.
Barton, Stefan. Random Number Service. Drawings.
Recently these preferences find their way into other, ‘higher’ forms of artistic expression like intentional drawings and, as mentioned, paintings. In fact, words have found their way into my newer paintings precisely because of the action that takes place in the note-book. The words are not there to be read, they are just part of the artistic language. A layer of intrigue, mysterious and uncomplete messages perhaps.
Barton, Stefan. At the very End of Infinity. Drawings.
For me an empty page or canvas is not an inspiration for artistic work – chaos is.
Stefan Barton resides in a village near Hamburg, Germany, but he spent 20 Years in the US (San Francisco and Boston Area). He works on paintings, drawings and printmaking. To see more of his images contact Stefan (stefan.bartongmail.com ) visit http://clex-werk.blogspot.de/ or look at a book:
We are inherently social beings. Our lives are shaped by our ability to cooperate and coexist with those around us. The power of community is our greatest saving grace in the face of meaninglessness and destruction. I have no words for the horrific events that took place in Las Vegas this week. My heart aches for the victims and their families. With this post, I want to focus on communities and events that bring us together. For society to renew, individuals must constantly focus on self-renewal.
Self-renewal requires you to cultivate your capacity for renewal by doing new and different things. We can too easily become complacent with our lives and settle into a rigid structure of sameness.
As we mature we progressively narrow the scope and variety of our lives. Of all the interests we might pursue, we settle on a few. Of all the people with whom we might associate, we select a small number. We become caught in a web of fixed relationships. We develop set ways of doing things.
Doing new things shakes us out of our apathy. This is why when you travel you regain an attentiveness that heightens every experience. Use your weekends to explore and engage and try new things…even if you feel like staying home. Push yourself. It’s worth it. In the warmer months seek out things like carnivals, antique car shows and, yes, chili cook offs.
This summer my kids pushed me to go to the En Ka Street Fair in Winchester, MA. I was at first resistant but I am so glad we went. There was something thrilling in being one amongst the crowd, everyone just relaxing and having fun.
Traveling carnivals are fun to explore and are a good example of temporal experiences set up to bring people together. The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 was the catalyst for traveling carnivals, rides, food (maybe not fried dough back then…), games of chance, thrills and more.
Every May in Sandpoint, ID there is a Lost in 50’s Car Show and Street Party. This past May was their 32nd annual event, which is impressive in and of itself. Krister, my love, attended and took these luscious photos. The downtown streets were lined with beautiful vintage cars, musical acts, street dances and more.
People bring their antique cars from far and wide, even Canada, to participate. You can feel the sense of pride in sharing their restorations, which sparks many conversations.
In June, stretched out across City Beach in Sandpoint, ID with a back drop of blue skies, big mountains and boats on Lake Pend Oreille, cooks from across the region set up their tents and chili with the hope of taking home the top prizes for their recipes and a chance to compete for the World Chili Cookoff in Nevada. (Who knew there was such a thing?) The community comes together for tasty chili while enjoying the camaraderie and competition.
I have a robust commitment to hope. Happiness is not something we find. It’s something we make. We need each other. Friendship and love dissolve misunderstanding, force fresh perspectives, alter judgements and break down barriers. Explore, try new things, connect with people. Be open to loving and being loved. Magic is something you make.
Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love. Read more about her inspiration here.
In these images of very small model houses I’m teasing at the notion that the house is a home. That our homes are a part of us in an organic way. Looking at these ‘homes’ in miniature, of plastic, from sky view, in isolation I feel as if in some way, the viewer is an observer into something that is artificial in the way we might see what a home really is or can be.
Duede, Steven. Untitled, 2017. Photograph.
These miniature homes, rescued from an old toy box, dusty, slightly damaged, a bit out of focus enhances the abstract synthetic nature of these images. I feel they also reflect a theme of home as something commercial, as something artificial, that is isolating.
Duede, Steven. Untitled, 2017. Photograph.
These images devoid of lawns, actual people, surrounding neighborhoods, sentimentality, might remind us that the sense of home is not in the structure in which we reside at all. Home is where the heart is?
Duede, Steven. Untitled, 2017. Photograph.
Furthermore, given that I mention that these images lack sentimentality; for me these subjects, but not necessarily the photographs themselves, have a sentimental slant. Many years ago, I endured severe illness in childhood that left me with permanent injury. I was ‘home’ bound for the better part of a year when I should have been in middle school. During that time in isolation, in recovery, my parents gave me N scale model train kits so that I might have something creative to participate in.
Duede, Steven. Untitled, 2017. Photograph.
These little houses I constructed from these kits. They might have been therapeutic at the time. I’m not sure. I think they just might be now when I look at them through that long lens of time and experience.
Duede, Steven. Untitled, 2017. Photograph.
In developing this project I’ve been not only considering my own experience in detachment but cannot help but wonder where so many of our hearts reside.
Duede, Steven. Untitled, 2017. Photograph.
Steven Duede is a fine art photographer, artist, designer and arts administrator living in Belmont, MA.
About four years ago on my way to Japan for the very first time I felt excited to start over from a life that wasn’t what I wanted for myself, to experience the unknown, and to make memories that will last a life time. I found myself sitting on my flight listening to music when the song The Nights, by Avicii, started playing on my iPhone. The words spoke to me instantly…. Avicii said “When I was sixteen my father said you could do anything you want with your life. You just have to be willing to work hard to get it. That’s when I decided that when I die I want to be remember for the life I lived, not the money I made.” It seems kind of crazy but my dad told me that exact same thing when I was a young boy living in Colombia. It felt like the song was made for me. I knew that I had to stay hungry for knowledge and adventure, that’s when I got lost in wanderlust.
Traveling, exploring new cultures and getting lost in foreign cities is what gets me going.
There is nothing more exciting than when you are trying to figure out where to go or what to order but the best part is you have no clue how to speak the language nor do you even know the basics… It’s funny and fascinating. So what do you do when you have no way to communicate through speaking? Point at what you want, smile and hope for the best!
Open yourself up to new cultures, new foods and new people. Getting away for a while will help you learn a lot about yourself.
In one of my journeys around the world I had the chance to meet some school kids in a village in Bali, Indonesia. They wanted to learn about where my friends and I were from. As we told the kids where we were from we realized it was four different countries! In our group we spoke three different languages and we all came from very different backgrounds, but we were united by one thing – we were consumed by wanderlust.
You only have one life so find happiness by doing what you love. Do it for yourself and the ones you love. Don’t be afraid of trying something new, experiencing new cultures, and the most important thing is to have fun on your journey. Get consumed by wanderlust.
Juan M Gamez is a United States Marine. He was born and raised in Columbia, South America and moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the United States when he was 15 years young. He is fascinated by culture and art. He loves traveling, photography and seeking adventure at all times.
Ever since I can remember I’ve dreamed about being a writer. Over the years, visions danced in my head of creating novels, poems and short stories. Yet, somehow something inside me always stopped me from taking that first step – even though I know I have much to say and write about – and I thought I’ll get to that later.
I love to read, especially fiction, getting lost inside a good story. This is from where my inspiration for writing comes. One of my favorite books has always been Catcher in the Rye, and to this very day my well worn copy still sits next to my bedside table, filled with underlined passages, notes and dog-eared pages, as I relished every moment at each read. With this inspiration in mind, I’ve decided to start writing now and share my stories here. I welcome contributions from those of you who also want to share your voice. Just contact me!
Below is the first part of a set of serial short stories about a young girl named Sadie. Comments and feedback are welcome.
SADIE – It’s hot
Sadie sat and stared up through the branches looking at the faded blue sky peeking through patchy white clouds. She heard a fly buzzing somewhere behind her. Flicking a twig off her leg, she slid down a little farther into the barrel of water. It was hot. So incredibly hot. She thought she would melt. This is why she filled the metal barrel with water from the hose and plopped down in it. The water felt cool on her hot skin. Even so, sweat dripped from her limbs that didn’t fit in the barrel and the heat was suffocating. The tree gave her a little bit of shade.
She could hear her grandmother in the kitchen chopping vegetables, prepping for tonight’s dinner. Her brother was down by the docks, trying to catch a crab. He’d been at it for a while and was not interested in entertaining Sadie, he said. Caleb was four years older and not much fun; he never wanted to play. Sadie and Caleb had been at their grandmother’s house for a month and a half. Their mother needed a break they were told. She was weak and couldn’t handle their noise and demands. What did they know? Sadie could’ve helped her mom even if she was only eight. She knew how to make sandwiches and clean up the kitchen and she took real good care of her mama. Still, they were sent away.
“Sadie!” she heard her grandmother yell. “What are you doing now? Look at that mess you’ve made!”
“It’s hot,” she yelled back. “What did you expect me to do?” she muttered. Sadie looked at the mud puddle around the barrel and the sludge that was slipping down the hill towards the back door to the kitchen. She had left the hose running so that the water would stay cool. Her feet were covered in mud and it was smudged on her hands and legs, drying and cracking in the heat. Her threadbare yellow dress floated up around her in the barrel and she pushed it back down into the dirty water.
Humming now, she closed her eyes and tilted her head up towards the sky. One hand swirled the water and lapped it up towards her neck. She was trying to remember as far back as she could when her mama was not sick. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t. She wondered what her mama was doing at that moment. A sadness enveloped her. She longed for her mama’s arms and warm embrace and happier days.
Last year, try as she did, she couldn’t stay out of trouble. She was real helpful and always trying to fix things. She had good ideas – she knew that for sure. Didn’t matter that not everyone understood them, like the time she collected the neighbors’ cats and brought them home to the apartment. She thought the cats would be thirsty in the heat. She found three but didn’t know they wouldn’t get along – that it would be hard to get them out before mama got home from work. What a mess that was.
Her mama had been so mad she locked her in the closet for hours and said she couldn’t control her so that’s where she needed to be. She said Sadie gave her a headache. The dark had scared Sadie at first, but then she realized it was nice and peaceful. She could see her mama’s shadows on the floor where the light shown in under the door. Sadie loved those shadows, her mama dancing by every time she passed the door. They comforted her while she softly hummed and rocked back and forth in the dark.
A bird screeched and pulled Sadie back to her barrel of water and the heat. The water from the hose kept rushing down the hill and the mud puddle was getting bigger. She thought she should probably get up and turn off the hose, but the heat made her feel heavy. She didn’t feel like it. She’d get to it before her grandmother looked outside again.
As her eyes scanned the yard, she caught a glimpse of something small and purple across the stretch of patchy grass and gray hardened dirt. She wondered what it could be so she pushed herself up out of the barrel, leaving the dirty water and deluge behind her, forgetting to turn off the hose. She made her way over, tripping ever so slightly on a tree root, to see what caught her eye. As she approached she realized it was a small, blooming violet.
She lay down on her stomach to look closer. The violet had only one flower on a drooping stem with two small yellowish leaves. Popping up out of a crack in the dirt and leaning over, the flower was straining to grow, and yet despite the conditions unsuitable for it to survive, it was still growing with determination. “Look at you, so pretty and small. Where is your mama to take care of you?” she asked in a quiet whisper.
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Films like “Lost in Translation” and “Up in the Air” give you the impression that business travel is a deeply lonely and alienating experience, especially for men. I can certainly understand how people who spend too much time on the road can feel disconnected from everyone and everything and exhausted from being nowhere and everywhere at the same time. When I travel for work, I do miss my family and the creature comforts of home. I can get tired of aggressively upbeat music in hotel lobbies and elevators, paranoia about the charge in my cell phone battery, and the endless search for healthy food and good coffee. At the same time, I’ve come to realize that traveling to new places for work sharpens my powers of observation and makes me feel more connected to strangers and, at some level, to my core beliefs and values.
Recently I visited San Francisco for a “thought leadership in education” event at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which was half the reason why I was willing to travel across the country to attend. The gathering’s organizers had promised to “bring together 250 of the most interesting people” in the education space. Raised in a working-class neighborhood in Boston, it all seemed so pretentious, so self-involved to me. And yet there was a part of me that was flattered to be on this exclusive list and excited by the promise of a private, curated viewing of the SFMOMA’s Fisher Wing.
At Logan Airport, I was impressed by the young mothers who were traveling alone with young children and navigating strollers and diaper bags along with the normal amount of luggage through the security checkpoint. It struck me as particularly poignant that this generation of children—my own kids included—will grow up with the basic understanding that everyone is to some extent a threat and that no one can be assumed to be safe.
As I dutifully remove my shoes, suit coat, belt, and laptop and place them in gray plastic bins, I notice an African-American woman, her feet spread shoulder width and her hands raised above her head in the tubular full-body scanning machine. Her t-shirt reads “Free Black Woman,” and it occurs to me that no white person in America would ever feel the need to buy and wear such a shirt.
When it’s my turn in the body scanner, I mold my body into the pose required by the silhouette inside the tube and feel something like shame at the fact that, as a white man, my putting my hands up as I am scrutinized by paramilitary TSA agents must be a very different experience from the woman in the “Free Black Woman” t-shirt.
On the cross-country flight, internet access is spotty, which causes me some productivity-related angst, but the unreliable connectivity allows me to pay more attention to my fellow passengers, including a lovely older couple sitting next to me. I am taken by the easy way they ask each other questions and show genuine interest in responding to each other’s queries. At various points during the flight, they look up from their reading and share aloud long passages—the husband a whole paragraph from an article on Chinese currency manipulation from Foreign Affairs magazine; the wife a passage from People about the recent death of Mary Tyler Moore. Their tender regard for one another is apparent and makes me hopeful about the future of my own marriage over the long haul.
On the taxi ride from the airport, a gnawing feeling of nervousness starts to dog me. This is an old and familiar sensation of fraudulence I can sometimes feel when I am in social situations that feature lots of affluence. Most days I manage my emotions by reminding myself of my worthiness through positive self-talk, a concept that would have made my even more insecure teenage self want to punch my 47 year-old self in the face. On this day, however, I am having a hard time keeping my nerves in check, so I do what I often do on work trips—I go for a long walk.
On this crisp February morning, San Francisco strikes me as a symbol of everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with America. Young San Franciscan professionals that I imagine to be employees of tech companies with edgy, ironic-sounding names commute to work. Nearly everyone has headphones tucked under fashionable hats and unnecessarily warm coats. Some talk to the wires next to their cheeks as they walk down the sidewalk. Others glance at their phones in between sips of coffee and tea as they wait for traffic lights to change.
This SOMA neighborhood is booming—there are new high-end construction projects on every block. Construction workers on their mid-morning breaks—burly, unshaven dudes in orange hard hats and yellow fluorescent vests—congregate in groups of three and four on street corners and on raised platforms made of dusty lumber and metal piping. They curse and smoke and eat slices of pizza and breakfast burritos and drink coffee from stainless steel thermoses.
On the same street as a futuristic hotel that looks like a series of glass cubes stacked asymmetrically, apartment maintenance workers power-wash shit-smeared sidewalks as city employees in cheery blue jackets remove cardboard boxes that have served as beds for the city’s many homeless residents the night before. Some newer commercial buildings feature sidewalks outside their windows in which large stones have been cemented into the walkway, ostensibly as a way to discourage people from sleeping there overnight.
I turn onto Mission Street. Every few blocks there are medical marijuana dispensaries with names like “Spark” and “Relief.” Their bouncers, muscular giants perched on too-small bar stools at the front door, check their phones and wait for trouble I hope will never come. I spot a young man passed out on the sidewalk, his back held upright by a temporary construction fence. Shafts of morning sun warm the lower half of his legs. An unlit cigarette balances impossibly, almost comically, from his mouth. One of his hands is open, palm outstretched to the heavens. A cell phone is clutched in his other hand. Thinking of Jacob Riis, I want so much to take a picture of this boy, whom I judge to be around twenty. I want to bear witness, to share his image with the wider world. Like the black woman at Logan, he seems to represent something potent and crystalline about the challenges and opportunities of the moment we’re in. I wonder if there is any way that I can frame the shot that will not strip him of his remaining dignity. Ultimately, I walk back in the direction of my hotel. On the way to my temporary home, I notice that the wall of the San Francisco Chronicle has a deep crack in its façade, where black Gothic letters teach me that the paper was founded in 1865—the last time we had Civil War, I can’t help thinking.
A few weeks later, I stop into the Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham, North Carolina. The snaking lunchtime line curls like a long sausage chain through the restaurant. Every skin tone and hairstyle in America seems to be represented and people of all ages are happy to wait for the fried whiting, the pulled pork sandwiches, the turkey plate, and the famous mac and cheese.
An older gentleman with a kind sun-splotched face and bushy eyebrows that can’t decide what direction they want to grow in enters the crowded shop. He moves slowly, almost painfully, with the help of a metal cane, uncertain about where he should place himself in the line. Two elderly black women allow him to cut in front of them. For a second, I consider offering to let him go ahead of me as well, but something about the interaction between the ladies and this man seems to me to be a deep but quiet gesture of Southern gentility, something subtle that a lanky Yankee in a suit like me can recognize but not fully comprehend.
The man slides into the space the ladies have created for him and clutches the wooden frame of a nearby booth for balance. He introduces himself to me as Chase. When I share with him that I’m in town for work, he tells me that his daughter is a teacher and his son-in-law is a youth minister. Chase tells me that he’s 80 years old and has survived five different kinds of cancer, one of which resulted in his liver being removed. As we wind our way through the restaurant, inching closer to the mouth-watering food that Yelp has promised, he tells me about his son who died at 48 of a heart attack while skiing. “You can accept other kinds of death,” he tells me, his blue eyes suddenly far from this BBQ joint. “My parents, even friends. You expect that. But your own child,” he trails off. “That’s different.”
One of the chefs pops out from behind the counter, taking fried food orders that he seems to remember with ease without writing them down. The catfish comes so big that it can’t fit on the plate, Chase tells me. He asks me if I have children. He celebrates my choice of the brisket, collard greens, and squash. When the time comes to pay for my food, he shakes my hand with startling firmness, wishes me luck on my trip, tells me I’m doing good work, and shuffles off towards the door with two sandwiches, one for himself and one for his wife.
Having woken up early and having sat in the line for so long, I scarf down my lunch. The contrast of the tangy, spicy red vinegar with the moist brisket is divine. Chewing on a mouthful of bitter collard greens, I can’t help thinking about the fact that I’m only a year younger than Chase’s son when he passed away, the same age as my own father when he died when I was in college. I let two hush puppies dissolve on my tongue and wash them down with sugary tea, happy to finish the meal with a mouthful of sweetness before getting back on the road in my rental car.
Jeff Liberty is the Vice President of Personalized Learning at BetterLesson. Jeff has been married for 15 years and has two school-age children. A graduate of Emerson College’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, Jeff tries to get better at his use of words when he’s not trying to help teachers get better at their craft.